Wednesday, June 29, 2011

3 Ways to Reinvent Your Small Group Ministry

by Rick Howerton

Sometimes we realize that our small group ministry isn’t even close to accomplishing what we had imagined she would. We’ve evaluated, gotten counsel from folks more knowledgeable than we are, and have determined that tweaking isn’t enough, the ministry needs to be reinvented, start anew.

So what are some ways to go about that?

One option is to move to a new group system. Please know that there are at least seven different approaches to doing groups and there are a massive number of variations on each system. Realize, this will demand a redo of almost everything as every small group ministry demands, 1) a system, 2) a structure to support the system and the structure will change with a new system, and 3) a strategy to build that system. For a look at how to choose a system that is right for your church there are two blog posts listed in “If This Was Helpful Check Out…” at the end of this post that you’ll want to read.

Another option if you’re needing to reinvent your small group ministry is to group people differently. There are many ways to group people together. You may group people geographically, or by age, or by stage of life, or by gender, or by interests, or by hobbies, or by the theme of the curriculum piece a group is doing, or you might be putting all ages together in an intergenerational group. The list could go on and on. One way to reinvent your small group ministry is to consider grouping people differently. But be careful. If you do this simply to change things up, those who are happy in their present state will definitely mutiny at some level. This is a change that needs to take place over time and would probably be best to do as you start new groups not by demanding your existing groups make this drastic change.

 A third option would be to change the makeup of your leadership team. This is a painful and difficult thing to do. But, after a period of time, some leadership teams find themselves in “group think.” Group think simply means that we’ve been together so long and think so much alike that new thought and ideas will never come to the forefront as long as we are the leadership team. New, creative, outside the old box thinkers will bring ideas to the table that will take your small group ministry to places she may have never gone to before.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Should Christians Pursue External Beauty?

A controversial Psychology Today article arguing that black women are less attractive than others got me thinking about real beauty.

Give beauty back,
beauty, beauty, beauty,
back to God,
beauty's self and beauty's giver.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo.”)

“Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”

That's the title of a recent (and promptly removed) Psychology Today online article by London School of Economics psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. It should be a dead giveaway that the content to follow will be nonsense. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure that out. Kanazawa rated survey responses from the Add Health project, a somewhat select questionnaire completed by a small pool of participants. He concluded that black women are “objectively less physically attractive than white, Asian or Native American women.” Kanazawa added, “The only thing I can think of that might explain the lower average physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races . . . .”

The public and journalistic uproar has died down. I’m sure Psychology Today has since had some interesting staff meetings. Naturally, I am tempted to cite the litany of painstakingly beautiful black women. But responding this way would be moot, suggesting the premise of the “scientific study” is legitimate discourse. Still, I have found myself reflecting on some deeper concerns it gets to, besides issues of racism that most critics have noted.
For me, a Christian Nigerian-American woman, it's equally important to debunk Kanazawa's ridiculous query as it is to examine how tempting it still is to allow ourselves to fall captive to the popular imagination that insists that physical attractiveness encapsulates the highest definition of beauty, and is the chief means by which we measure our and others’ value. Women have never been strangers to this cultural temptation. Beauty, as our culture defines it, lures us to want to both “put it on” and possess it for our personal gratification and public flaunting.

For people of faith, a fuller understanding of beauty is that it always points us back towards God’s self and God’s goodness. If we Christians believe Scripture, then even though we recognize that all creation mirrors the beauty of God, we most fully recognize God through the person of Jesus Christ. To look for God is first to look to the Word that bears witness to the Triune God, and then to match up the witness of the illuminating Word with the Spirit’s movement in the world. Following this trajectory presumes that beauty is that which reflects the life of Christ.
Such reasoning offers a whole new landscape on which to spot and cultivate the multiple forms that beauty takes, including what we do with our bodies, and how we use our hands and minds to nurture the flourishing of those in and out of our communities. Consequently, a historical litany of the most beautiful women would include Harriet Tubman, Wangari Muta Maathai, and the numerous Argentinean women known as Grandmothers of La Plaza de Mayo. A God-centered hunger for beauty is most fully satisfied when we pattern our lives after what we know of God’s character through Christ. And this is by no means to suggest a Marcion reading, that we know God only through the New Testament. Rather, as Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer posited so beautifully, we know God and his covenant story with humanity only by starting in the middle of God’s story, with Christ.

However, lest we throw the supermodel out with the baptismal water, Kanazawa cannot be critiqued for researching physical beauty itself. Our culture’s sinful emphasis on it doesn’t make it bad. As one naturally motivated and affected by aesthetics, I won’t deny the power of the human form in the peoples and cultures that reveal God’s incomprehensible, holy imagination. As a woman convicted that cultivating internal beauty both honors God and provides a way of living into God’s best for us, I also hold that women, Christian or not, can and should delight in the beauty of their human form.

Physical attributes of beauty are also a segment of beauty from the God-centered perspective. Our bodies are works of divine art, in all their shapes and sizes and various abilities or disabilities. It is always an act of faithfulness to delight in that which God delights, and I believe that God delights in what God creates. How one accentuates the beauty of the human form is another topic altogether, full of subjective arguments. But there is nothing inherently wrong with minding how we look and expressing our attempts, albeit at times quite fallen, to layer our multifaceted ideas of beauty upon that which is already beautiful. I am both playfully and sincerely grateful that I have the luxury to dwell on what I believe is most flattering to my human form, what dresses, occasional shade of lip gloss, or flimsy scarf makes me feel beautiful.

But while I delight in seeking to be beautiful on the inside and on the outside, I don't hang my existential coat on this body. The grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit help me cultivate the former and hold the latter loosely. There is no doubt that Kanazawa was on to something in that beauty deserves attention. But that attention should ultimately point us back to God, “beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.”

Enuma Okoro was born in the United States and raised in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and England. She holds a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School where she served as director for the Center for Theological Writing. The author of Reluctant Pilgrim and co-author of Common Prayer (with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove), Enuma lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. She blogs at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When the tribulation comes, I want to know how to shoot.

Gun Range, No Rapture

Well, the Rapture didn’t happen, but it did get me thinking about firearms. When the tribulation comes, I want to know how to shoot.

Marc Halcon, owner of American Shooting Center in Kearny Mesa (858-279-7233;, assured me that gender would not be an issue in gun training.

“The ratio of entry-level shooters is generally 50/50, male to female.” What are some of the reasons women attend? “What we hear is, ‘I want to be able to protect my home, myself, and my children.’ Or, ‘My husband or boyfriend has firearms, and I just want to be more comfortable with them.’ Or, ‘This is kind of empowering.’”

Halcon told me that their entry-level training course “covers the basic laws regarding guns and the fundamental mechanics of how a gun works. We also go over the differences between various types of firearms, and there’s some time spent shooting on the range. It takes four or five hours, and we provide the gun, the ammunition, and the safety gear. Class size is usually around seven people, and there are two instructors, so you get a lot of one-on-one instruction. The cost is $150.”

Students are allowed to bring their own guns, but Halcon prefers that you choose from their selection. “We can tailor the instruction to fit your needs, depending on your weapon, but we like people to be open-minded enough to consider whether or not a particular gun is the right fit for them. Maybe the recoil isn’t right for you, maybe there’s something else. We have about 50 gun models to choose from, lots of different styles and calibers.”

After you’ve taken the entry-level course, Halcon suggests that you return to practice. “It’s $15 a visit. You can bring your own gun and ammunition or rent them from us. The range is indoors and 25 yards long — though the targets can be moved closer for beginners.”

Halcon added, “About 25 percent of students move up to the level-two course. That’s where you get into things like using a holster, shooting at multiple targets, shooting while on the move, reloading quickly, and clearing malfunctions. Cost is $250 for the two-day course.”

Sarah at Project 2000 Shooting Range in El Cajon (619-442-9971; said that the majority of students in their First Steps pistol class (three hours, $85) are women. “Often we get customers who come in who say, ‘This is my husband’s gun; I don’t know what it shoots or how to shoot it.’ We need to take care of you. The First Steps class starts with an overview of the gun — the caliber of bullet it shoots, things like that. You’re shown the proper way to hold the gun to maintain complete control. You learn how to clear jams and general safety precautions. Then you go to the range and do some live firing. We provide .22-caliber semiautomatic pistols for the class; they don’t have any kick, so they’re good for beginners. If you’re going to bring your own pistol, you need to bring your own ammunition.”

Once you’ve completed the First Steps class, you can move on to individual Skillbuilders classes (two hours each, $40). “The classes focus on a different skill each month. One month may be shooting and running, another may be shooting under duress. In that case, the instructors would cause you duress by yelling at you and using blinking lights while you shoot. For Skillbuilders, you need your own gun, your own ammunition, and your own safety gear.”

Project 2000, said Sarah, “is the largest indoor range on the West Coast. We have a designated pistol range that runs 25 yards, a rifle range that runs to 100 yards, and a shotgun range. And we have outdoor ranges where you can shoot clay discs. It’s $14 an hour for the first shooter and $10 an hour for each additional shooter. If you want to come in with a friend and you’ve never done this before, we always have someone on staff who will go out on the range with you, explain the gun, and help you.”

Janell at Discount Gun Mart in Santee (619-596-4099, said that their Home Firearms Safety Course (four hours, $95) covers “general safety rules, firearm terminology, and the laws regarding possession, storage, and transportation of firearms. The fee includes firearm, safety gear, and target, but not ammunition.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Most Popular Articles of the Week

On the Shelves

The Jewish Targums and John's Logos Theology

The Jewish Targums and John's Logos Theology

It has long been assumed by Johannine scholars that the Targums were of no use in studying the concept of "Logos" employed in John's Gospel. This book argues otherwise.
Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History

Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History

Renowned scholar Dale Allison "constructs" a historical Jesus in ways that go beyond the theological and philosophical prejudices that often taint standard research.
Renovation of the Church

Renovation of the Church

Co-pastors Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken tell the story of how God took their thriving, consumer-oriented church and transformed it into a smaller—and stronger—congregation.


Scientists from UCSD have developed a device that could eventually allow smells to waft your way from your television or cell phone. The researchers successfully tested their technology with two perfumes - "Live by Jennifer Lopez" and "Passion by Elizabeth Taylor."

The plan is to allow TVs and iPhones to waft 10,000 different scents at viewers and users.

This is great news, since it gives me yet another excuse to sit on the couch all day. Instead of going outside, I could smell the salt of the ocean and the rose garden of Balboa Park from the comfort of my own home.

Wait a minute! Why does it smell like despair in here?

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Monday, June 20, 2011


Click Here Tiger Dads vs. Sexualized Daughters
Why one of our parental duties is to protect our children physically and spirituality by teaching them to be modest.

Why Men Should Read Jane Austen
And, how we all should read works like Pride and Prejudice.

Fathers: Key to Their Children's Faith

Sun, Jun. 19, 2011 Posted: 10:04 AM EDT
S. Michael Craven
Christian Post Guest Columnist
I am afraid that our culture in general has reduced the role of fatherhood (along with marriage itself) to something nonessential or unnecessary. Even many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother's role and somehow no longer associated with masculinity or “real” manhood.

Instead, many have succumbed to modern cultural caricatures-encouraged by feminist psychology-and the primitive label of hunter-gatherer, and thus assume that this is their main contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as father exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is children are not looking for financial provision; they are looking for love, guidance, and a role model for what it means to be a man.

During the colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in a man’s life. Today the highest aspirations of men seem to be career success and personal leisure; and against these they seek to balance marriage and family.

The lack of actively involved fathers has produced societal conditions necessary for the intervention of government. It is a sobering fact when the government is compelled to respond to the failure of such a fundamental institution as family! In 2001 the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services under President Bush launched its Fatherhood Initiative with this statement:

The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority … [T]he presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.

While the research confirms that paternal absence (whether it is physical or emotional) is a significant contributing factor in almost every category of societal ill, my concern is the spiritual consequence.

A rather obscure but large and important study conducted by the Swiss government in 1994 and published in 2000 revealed some astonishing facts with regard to the generational transmission of faith and religious values. (The full title of the study is: “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. The study appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000.) Sounds like a page-turner right?

In short, the study reveals: “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children” (Emphasis mine).
The study reports:

1. If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.

2. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

3. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!

What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Amazingly, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and up to 44 percent with the non-practicing. This suggests that loyalty to the father’s commitment grows in response to the mother’s laxity or indifference to religion.

In short, if a father does not go to church-no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions-only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). One of the reasons suggested for this distinction is that children tend to take their cues about domestic life from Mom while their conceptions of the world outside come from Dad. If Dad takes faith in God seriously then the message to their children is that God should be taken seriously.

This confirms the essential role of father as spiritual leader, which I would argue is true fatherhood. Fathers are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, modeling the love of the Father in their most important earthly relationship. Fathers are to care for their children as our Father in heaven cares for us and finally, fathers play a primary role in teaching their children the truth about reality. It is the father who should instruct his children in their understanding of the world from a consciously and informed Christian worldview. It is the father who is essential for sending his children forth with a biblical view of reality and a faith in Jesus Christ that is rooted in solid understanding.

It is time for fathers to return to honorable manhood and reconsider their priorities and realign them with God’s commands, decrees, and laws, teaching these things to your children “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7 NKJV).

Have a happy Father’s Day!

S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress). Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, visit: . Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

10 Signs of Life and Death in Your Small Group

There are few things more disappointing than anticipating a Holy Spirit-influenced, Jesus-centered small group meeting where laughter, sincere prayers, and new understandings of God’s grace, love, and commitment to His expectations are made. But I’ve been ambushed by an apathetic experience many, many times. So what is it that brings a small group meeting to life?

Small group meetings come alive when…
  1. The leader has been praying for her/his small group members throughout the week.
  2. Group members have been in conversation between meetings.
  3. Every group member has been spending time with God daily between meetings.
  4. The group cries out to God expecting Him to do something.
  5. Everyone is more concerned about everyone else than they are themselves.
  6. The goal of the Bible study time is to find out what God is saying.
  7. The outcome of the Bible study time is a commitment to thinking differently or doing differently.
  8. The group leader models authenticity.
  9. Group members are honest enough to ask others in the group to help them carry the burdens of life.
  10. The group takes the time to celebrate significant life experiences with a group member.
Small Group meetings are dead when…
  1. The small group leader is late.
  2. The coffee is cold, the entrée is burned, and the plastic forks break on that entrée.
  3. There’s not enough food for everyone.
  4. It’s so hot in the room, people are sweating.
  5. It’s so cold, group members ask for blankets.
  6. The hosts won’t put their cat in another room, and some group members are allergic to it.
  7. The lighting is so dim, group members have to squint to read. 
  8. Group members answer their cell phones during meetings.
  9. Group members are texting during the meeting.
  10. Group members are texting one another during the meeting.
Little things make a HUGE difference!!!

More from Rick Howerton or visit Rick at

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Disguising Spiritual Laziness

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Man's Man or God's Man?


The Masculine MandateA clear call to a reformation of the family
There is a crying need in the church today for men to be men. But competing visions for what a man is to be--some growing out of popular culture and others arising from flawed teaching in the church--are exacerbating the problem.

Rev. Richard D. Phillips believes the problem and the inadequate solutions being put forward demand sound exegesis of biblical passages relating to masculinity. The Bible alone has the answer to what men are to be in the eyes of their Creator.

In The Masculine Mandate, Rev. Phillips provides this essential exegesis and issues a call to reformation in the evangelical church’s attitude toward the role of men in the family, the church, and society.

"The Masculine Mandate gives an accurate picture of what it means to be God's man. The reader will come away reassured that even though he may possess none of the attributes that the world deems essential for a 'man's man,' nevertheless he can be one of God's man." -- Jerry Bridges (from the Foreword)

Hardback; 190 pages


Sunday, June 5, 2011

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